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World Conflicts Threaten to Destroy Civilization

The twentieth century saw the two most destructive wars in history. The wars came about through the clash of the great forces described in previous units –nationalism, the growth of science and industry and rivalry for power and empire. Since these forces were felt round the world, the conflicts they caused became “world wars.” So great was the destruction and loss of life that world peace became the chief necessity of our time and new world organizations were formed to achieve this goal.

We learn how the rivalry between European powers finally exploded in World War II. Under the strain of this exhausting war, old empires toppled and subject peoples won the right to govern themselves. In Russia, however, affairs took a different turn. We describe how the Russian people, restless under the oppressive rule of the czars and weary of war, revolted in 1917, but power soon was seized by Communists who set up a ruthless dictatorship. Under Communist rule, the needs and rights of the Russian people were sacrificed to build up the industrial and military power of the state.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s dictators also took over Italy and Germany. These dictators, Mussolini and Hitler, sought more land and power in a series of aggressions against other countries. Democratic peoples everywhere were alarmed at the way the dictators abused the rights of individuals and nations, but the democracies were reluctant to risk war by taking a firm stand against the dictators. Aggressions continued and World War II broke out. Reckless attacks by Germany and Japan finally brought together a powerful opposing alliance, which included Britain, the United States and Russia. These “United Nations” won the war and started on the difficult task of building a permanent peace.

World War I and the Peace that Failed

The soldier stood on the muddy “fire step” that reached, shelflike, the length of the deep trench. It was too dark to see his tired, mud-smirched face or to judge how old he was. He wore a steel helmet or “tin hat” and the khaki coloured blouse, pants and spiral leggings of the British Expeditionary Force. The barrel of his Enfield rifle rested on the top of a sodden sandbag. Tensely he crouched, his head thrust forward and turned slightly to the right, the better to hear with. His squinting eyes bored into the foggy gray of pre-dawn light. If he only knew what was out there in the hundred yards of shell-pocked “no mans land” between the British and the German trenches! Had he heard the rasping sound that a man’s leather boots make as he crawls along the ground? Had he heard the dull plunk which meant another strand had been cut in the barbed-wire entanglement that zigzagged in front of the trenches? Was a German wiring party out there cutting a path for German troops to use to launch an attack on the British? Nervously his hand gripped tighter the stock of his rifle. Why didn’t the fog lift and the daylight come? He shook, partly from the cold and partly from nervousness. He was hungry and tired, too, but he had his job to do. Nations throughout the world lined up on opposing sides in World War I. This was the kind of fighting that took place in World War I, when Allied and German forces pinned each other down in deeply dug trenches. There was little of the open-held charging of earlier wars or of the rapid, slashing sweep of tanks that was to take place in World War II. Instead, World War I was …

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